Our Boat

Caloosa Spirit

Catalina 42 mkII

Log #43 Cruising News

A dear friend back in Indy told us recently that he wants us to go some place new, because he’s tired of reading about the same places. We share his sentiments. We haven’t written anything new here for over a week, because there’s nothing new to say. We’re still in Ft. Myers Beach, trying to stay warm. A cold front associated with the recent northeastern blizzard brought record low temperatures here. But today the thermometer reached 70 once again, so things are improving.

I suppose you’re all wondering what transpired at that town meeting with the Anchorage Advisory Committee we attended last week. I hope no one out there made book on whether or not we would speak out at the meeting. Not likely, though, since most of you know us as rather…shall we say, outspoken. So, yes, we did have our say, but in good company. Numerous other boaters also attended and most of them had concerns similar to ours. The assistant town manager and the marina owner both got an earful. At the request of one of the Anchorage Advisory Committee members, Jim had written a letter (a rather lengthy, detailed one regarding our experience with the marina) to the Director of Public Services for the town, and when it was Jim’s turn he read the letter into the record. He got a rousing ovation when he finished. I merely added a comment about getting two nasty notes on consecutive days, just because their bad record-keeping neglected to show that we had paid our second week’s rental when it was due. The marina owner did his best to show himself as the arrogant crook that everyone describes him as. He demonstrated virtually no consideration or concern for any of the complaints registered. So if any changes happen here at Matanzas Harbor in the future, it will be because the town managers and council drag the marina owner kicking and screaming into making some improvements. We don’t think it looks very hopeful for the near future, though. Such a shame, since this is really a great place to hang out for a while. But we think more and more cruisers are likely to pass the harbor by for more hospitable havens elsewhere.

Tomorrow we plan to make our last preparations for leaving the day after. We’re headed south, hopefully to warmer weather.

Okay, so it was two days after that we finally left Ft. Myers Beach. That was as fast as we were able to push ourselves to get going. Anyway, we had a breezy day for the sail down to Marco Island. Unfortunately, as so often happens, the 10-15 knots of wind was more on our nose than off, so we only sailed two-thirds the distance and motor-sailed the other third. We’re now anchored in Factory Bay which sounds unappealing. Our usual stop at Marco Island is pretty much history. Since Hurricane Charley, Coconut Island, just inside Capri Pass, has been lost to the winds and tides, and is now only a hump of sand providing virtually no protection. So, with the encouragement of a fellow cruiser on the SSB, we opted to cruise farther up the Marco River to this designated anchorage. Unappealing as the name sounds, it’s really quite pleasant and very protected. Tomorrow we hope to see some of Marco Island.

A short dinghy ride from our boat brought us to the Marco River Marina, where we were able to leave the dinghy (for a $5 fee) to walk around. We were pleased to find Publix, West Marine, Walgreens, and Subway-Dunkin Donuts all within a few blocks. We also picked up some literature about Marco Island. To say that this island hosts a tremendous amount of affluence is an understatement. Most home listings were in the multi-millions, although most of the homes we’ve seen are rather modest in appearance. A couple of statistics we found indicate that Collier County (Naples and Marco Island) is the 5th most affluent county in the U.S., and that 13 out of the 28 billionaires in the U.S. have homes in Collier County. Well, at least there aren’t any derelicts in the anchorage.

Our plan is to leave tomorrow for Indian Key, but at this point that’s uncertain. I (Alice) managed to badly stub a toe, and it’s looking somewhat swollen and purple. Ice has helped, but if I find myself in agony tonight, we’ll have to find a medical center tomorrow. Yes, cruising is always an adventure!

Alice’s toe caused no pain last night, so this morning we set off for Indian Key in the Ten Thousand Islands. This is another of the places we always wanted to go, but never had the time. Each time we’ve passed by here over the last year has been in warm weather, when the mosquitoes lay claim to the islands. But this time of year seems ideal for a visit. The northerly wind of 10-15 knots never really materialized, so once again we assisted the sails with the engine all day. The isolation of this anchorage is a delightful get-away. We’re alone with the mangroves, the herons, the pelicans—and the four other boats in the anchorage. Tomorrow we’ll take the dinghy to visit Everglades City.

Indian Key

A four-mile dinghy ride took us into Everglades City. We didn’t know exactly what to expect, but the Rod and Gun Club is a historic site, and the primary reason for a visit to the town. We easily found the Club and a seawall for dinghy dockage. Although it appeared quiet, the door was open so we walked in and looked around the elegant but rustic lobby and sitting areas. The Club was built in the 1920’s by Barron Collier, who was primarily responsible for putting Everglades City on the map. It boasts visits from five presidents and numerous celebrities and dignitaries over the last seventy-plus years. We thought we would enjoy lunch in the grand-old ambiance, but we felt put off by the comment from a hostess/server that they “frown upon sight-seers”, and that anyone perusing the myriad news clippings on the walls was expected to eat there. So we wandered off to see more of the town. It didn’t take long. Everglades City could be described as something of an end-of-the-line backwater, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There really isn’t much to see there (other than a few old buildings and a cell tower on the town circle), although there do seem to be quite a few homes in the area. It seems to be fairly quiet and laid back, and the mangrove islands surrounding it provide a sense of eternal tranquility. We’re glad we made the visit.

Everglades City Rod

We’ve chosen to do something this week that we’ve rarely done since we started cruising—wait for wind. A frontal passage is expected tomorrow, so we don’t want to be out on the water during the northwest winds, overcast skies, and possible rain. In a few days winds behind the front will be strong and favorable for the run to Little Shark River and on to Marathon. We could have gone on to Little Shark River today, but it would have meant motor-sailing again. And we’d have to sit there for a couple of days anyway. So here we are at Indian Key for the rest of the week. We moved the boat further up the pass for more protection from the northwesterlies due to come through.

Another boat here in the anchorage, s/v Puffin, has made the same choice. We met Paul and Gail yesterday, and this afternoon they invited us for wine and cheese. Once more, meeting other cruisers has enriched our lives.

The front seems to be a little late. We had sunshine and light breezes all day. No complaints, though, because we took the opportunity to do some dinghy exploration among the mangrove islands. What a delicious sensation to feel alone with nature. The roseate spoonbill, herons, egrets, and dolphins were somewhat shy about communing with us, but they were still a joy to watch. This afternoon we returned in the dinghy with fishing rod and tackle to a particularly interesting spot where the fish had been jumping. Jim spent an hour or so practicing his casting, while I just enjoyed the scenery. We concluded that there really had been only one Mangrove Snapper in the vicinity and he kept moving from one place to another, while playing the child’s game of “Catch Me If You Can”. Another delightful cocktail hour with Paul and Gail of Puffin—this time on board Caloosa Spirit—capped off the day.

The Florida Everglades

The front finally came through this morning, so it was good that we’d chosen to wait until tomorrow to leave. As the skies have cleared this afternoon, it appears that we’ll have good winds for the 35 miles to Little Shark River tomorrow.

Waiting for wind—what a concept! Caloosa Spirit really is still a sailboat after all. She hasn’t actually been transformed into a trawler, as it sometimes feels. We saw the forecast 15-20 from the northeast all day, so the beam reach to Little Shark River was a treat we’ve experienced too little. We made good time at 5-8 knots on this bright, sunny—but cool—day. Our joy in the exhilarating sail was marred, however, when we encountered a loggerhead turtle caught by a crab trap just two miles out from Little Shark River. Little Shark is part of Everglades National Park, as is Indian Key, and the park extends about two miles from the shoreline into the Gulf. Because they’re prohibited within the park, the crabbers drop a gazillion traps just outside the signs marking the park boundary. We had been dodging traps all the way down, but they were a walk in the park compared to the mine field we encountered just outside the park marker. Also, we had just passed a crabber boat dropping traps when we saw the turtle thrashing near a trap float. Jim called on the radio for assistance from any fishing boat in the vicinity, but got no response. We felt compelled to try to do something for the poor turtle, so we dropped our sails and headed back. He/She was still flailing at his/her bonds as we approached once more. We could see that the turtle could surface to breathe, but also that her/his flipper was entangled in the crab trap line. We debated about how we could help the creature, but we soon realized that we would be unable to reach her/him effectively, even with a boat hook, from our boat. Jim tried calling again to any vessel in the area—we could see several fishing boats—and still got no answer. “It’s a good thing we’re not sinking!” we said in total frustration. As a last resort, Jim called the Coast Guard to report the stricken turtle, and the Coastie said he would call a Park Ranger for assistance. Frustrated and saddened, but feeling we had done all we could, we headed in to the anchorage.

Sitting here amid the natural beauty and serenity of this part of the Everglades, we reflect once more on our ultimate inconsequence in the grandeur of Creation. God gave us “dominion” over the wild things in our world, but with that comes a weighty responsibility. To turn our backs on God’s creatures by dropping traps while neglecting to monitor a marine radio seems like a high crime in God’s court. Why, we wonder, does such a crime go uncontested, while some who call themselves Christian make the national news by taking potshots at children’s heroes, such as Barney, Buster, and Bert and Ernie, for some tenuous connection to homosexuality? Our God is surely saddened by what we do—and by what we don’t do—in God’s name.

We’ll probably never know for sure what became of the entangled turtle. We can only hope that a Park Ranger was able to reach and free him/her in time, since we did see a Ranger head out in that direction. From experience we know that Rangers deeply care about all creatures in their trust. But the fishermen and crabbers? Well, let’s just say that from this point on crab will definitely be off my menu entirely. Dodging the crab traps is bad enough, but the callous attitude demonstrated today by some making a living from crab-trapping has completely soured any taste I may have had for crab. I’m even tempted to swear off any fish but what Jim can catch. That’s how disheartened I’m feeling. I can only hope that some fisherman somewhere can restore my faith in fishing as a noble calling. We’ll be having steak for dinner.

We’re now in Marathon in the Florida Keys, anchored in Boot Key Harbor. We had another bracing sail yesterday from Little Shark River, and arrived at around 3:30 (after leaving at 7:15AM). The 15-20 northeasterly winds dropped down a few times while we were sailing due south, but when we turned to the northeast for the last two miles to the harbor, the winds remained pegged at 20-22. Oh, joy. But our real problems began when we got into the harbor. We haven’t seen such a forest of masts since Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgins on New Year’s (Millenium) Eve. This is a huge harbor, and boats are everywhere! A section of the harbor has been turned into a mooring field (much better managed than in Ft. Myers Beach), but most of the area is still anchorage. After cruising around for half an hour, we seemed to find the only available space for our boat, and we knew that we would have to use two anchors to keep the boat positioned away from the other nearby boats. Since we’ve had so much chain on our rodes, we’ve only put two anchors down once. We didn’t like the mess of twisted chains, so we’ve studiously avoided it since. On the first try both Delta anchors dragged in the silty mud. We tried again and got one Delta to hold, but several tries later—not to mention several near-misses with the boat on our starboard side—we still couldn’t get the other Delta set, because we didn’t have sufficient room to back down in the right direction. With the sun setting Jim let out 175 ft. of the other rode, rigged the Danforth anchor that hangs on our stern arch, dropped it off the stern, and then we set the Danforth by pulling forward. The Danforth rode is mostly rope, and the one Delta rode that’s down is half rope, so hopefully any twist won’t be so bad. Two and a half hours after starting in on anchors-down, we finally shut off the engine. We were both so exhausted we ate something, showered, and fell into bed. Of course, we both got up periodically to look around, and to make sure we were still holding. One more humbling experience in the world of living on the hook.

Incidentally, the folks on s/v Idyll Ours, the Catalina 36 anchored next to us, were quite gracious as we struggled to get ourselves stuck in the right spot. Especially so, as Jack told us this morning that a power boat had actually damaged their bow recently. I don’t know if he saw how close we came to his bow at one point, but I was determined not to hit it—both boats are too pretty.

We plan to stay here for at least a week, longer if the winds don’t let up. We really want to get up to Miami for the boat show there at the end of next week, but we’re trying to be cruisers without a schedule—except the one the weather dictates.

Fair winds and a faithful wake until next time,
Alice & Jim Rutherford
s/v Caloosa Spirit

P. S. Don’t forget to look up Alice’s book, Reaching a Far Horizon, at www.lulu.com!

Posted Monday February 7, 2005

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